Difference between revisions of "Northern Ireland"
Revision as of 18:57, 22 March 2008
Northern Ireland  lies on the island of Ireland, and is considered by some to be one of the United Kingdom's four home nations. Although having received bad publicity over the past few decades, it is nonetheless a fascinating region with much to offer in the way of beautiful scenery and cosmopolitan cities. Northern Ireland is renowned for the friendliness of its people.
Cities and Towns
Northern Ireland is home to numerous cities and towns. Below is a list of nine of the most notable. Other urban areas are listed on their specific county article.
Immigration and visa requirements
Northern Ireland has the same immigration and visa requirements as the rest of the UK.
For more information of UK Immigration and visa requirements, see the UK's Home Office website
The main airports in Northern Ireland are:
George Best Belfast City Airport  (airport code BHD): just 2 miles from Belfast city center, with magnificent views of the city of Belfast or Belfast Lough offered to passengers on approach and departure. The airport principally serves routes to domestic UK and Ireland, however bmi offers interline connections to its flights and those of the Star Alliance through Heathrow. (Note: Aer Lingus now also offers service to London Heathrow from Belfast International Airport. These flights are code-shared with British Airways, therefore offering interline connections to its flights and those of the One World Alliance. Airlines using the airport include:
The terminal is served every twenty to thirty minutes from 06.00 - 22.00 by the 600 Airport bus  (£1.30 single, £2.20 return). Depending on traffic, the journey to Belfast's Laganside and Europa Buscentres should take no more than fifteen minutes. Ask at the airport information desk for a free shuttle ride to the near-by Sydenham railway station for trains towards Bangor, Belfast and Portadown. Considering the airport's proximity to the city, taxis cost less than £10 to most parts of the city and are an economical choice for small groups.
The Airporter is an hourly shuttle from Belfast's two airports to Londonderry/Derry. The journey to Belfast City Airport takes roughly a two hours.
Belfast International Airport  (airport code BFS): further away from Belfast City Airport, but offers significantly more international destinations.
The terminal is served up to thirty minutes from 05.35 - 23.20 by the 300 Airport bus  (£6 single, £9 return) to Belfast Laganside and Europa Buscentres. Depending on traffic, the journey to Belfast's Laganside and Europa Buscentres takes about forty-five minutes. Taxis should cost no more than £25-£30 to Belfast City Centre.
The Airporter is an hourly shuttle from Belfast's two airports to Londonderry/Derry. The journey to Belfast International takes ninety minutes.
Despite decades of underinvestment and service cutbacks, Northern Ireland Railways (a division of Translink, Northern Ireland's public transport operator) manages to maintain a small but increasingly reliable passenger rail network around the province, with four 'domestic' lines radiating out from Belfast.
Service is most frequent and reliable on the Portadown - Belfast - Bangor corridor, on which new trains offer frequent and fast suburban service. The line to Londonderry/Derry is exceptionally beautiful as it passes along the north coast after Coleraine, however travellers should note that the railway line is slower (two hours or more) than the equivalent Ulsterbus Goldline express coach (one hour and forty minutes). Contact NIR for information on tourist passes for exploring Northern Ireland by bus and train: with integrated bus and train stations in most major towns, the North is easily explored without a car.
The cross-border service to Dublin (with connections to other destinations in the Republic of Ireland) is offered by the Enteprise, a modern, comfortable and relatively fast train jointly operated by Northern Ireland Railways and Iarnród Éireann (who operate trains in the Republic of Ireland). The journey to Dublin takes around two hours, and there are eight trains a day, offering two classes of service.
Roads link Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland. However, take care when driving in border areas. In some places the border, being based on county boundaries, runs along the middle of the road while in others it's possible to cross into the South and then back into the North again within several hundred yards. Fortunately both jurisdictions drive on the left though road signs and speed limits in the Republic are now metric (kilometers) while road signs in the North are all imperial (miles).
There are usually no border checks at all and there is complete freedom of movement between the North and Republic.
Sailings across the Irish Sea connect Northern Ireland to Great Britain, via Larne or Belfast . All the operators listed below offer special promotions throughout the year, and some also offer through ticketing with rail and bus services at each end.
Seat61.com offers informed and independent advice on how to book combined train and ferry tickets from any railway station in Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland's motorway system connects Belfast to Dungannon, Ballymena and Newtownabbey. All large towns and cities are well connected by road. The speed limits are -
Motorways and dual carriageways ('divided highways') - 70 miles per hour (c. 112 km/h)
Other roads (outside urban areas) - 60 miles per hour (c. 96 km/h)
Urban areas (towns and cities) - 30 miles per hour (c. 48 km/h)
Northern is not as well served by car rental companies as is Ireland in General. Some Irish car rental companies offer a drop off option in Belfast while others have locations in Belfast City.
Driving standards in Northern Ireland are among the lowest in Europe and the death toll per head of population is annually among the highest on the continent. By tradition Northern Irish drivers believe themselves to be much better drivers than they actually are. This overconfidence being cited as the biggest cause of the high accident rate in the Province. Newly qualified drivers can be identified on the roads by 'R' ( meaning Restricted to 45 MPH on all roads)the plates that must be displayed on their Car for a period of twelve months after qualifying. 'R' drivers are widely disliked by other drivers and often unfairly described as dangerous due to their newly qualified status. In truth 'R' drivers are the least likely to cause an accident as their newly gained driving skills make them on average 30% safer on the road than a driver in the Province with five years experience.
By bus and train
Translink operate the Northern Ireland public transport system.
English is spoken everywhere. There are slight variations of regional dialects. Ulster Scots and Irish are used in some small communities. Do be aware though that the Northern Irish tend to speak quite rapidly compared to most English speakers, and have a huge arsenal of local words that are frequently dropped into conversation by speakers of all ages and groups. Expect to become acquainted with words such as 'aye' (yes), 'wee' (little), 'cowp' (turn over, capsize, fall, pass out, fall asleep), 'thole' (be patient, wait, tolerate) 'wean' (literally 'wee one', meaning child), and 'craic' (pronounced 'crack', meaning a good time/fun/a laugh, with no conotations of any illegal substances whatsoever).
While conversations between local friends and aquaintences can seem brash or even rude to North Americans, it is usually all in good fun. Northern Ireland people are generally quite open, in comparison to other peoples across the rest of the British Isles. Don't be surprised if a complete stranger rushes to open a door for you, gives you a smile and a friendly "Hello", or even engages in friendly conversation. This can happen quite randomly, and anywhere - at bus stops, in shopping queues, while dining. However, it is generally wise to avoid expressing opinions on local politics. Additionally, while Northern Ireland people can be quite cynical about their where they are from, and are renowned for their 'black humour', this should not be taken as an invitation to join in the criticism! Silence is foreign to those from Northern Ireland, and in casual conversation you will rarely find yourselves with nothing to talk about.
The legal drinking age in Northern Ireland is 18. People at and above the age of 16 will be served beer and wine with meals as long as there is a consenting adult present. In general, restauranteurs are generally strict about this rule, while the operators of small local pubs and bars tend to be more relaxed, and it isn't uncommon to spy clearly underage youth having a few drinks. Bushmills whiskey is made in the town of the same name on the north coast, and distillery tours are interesting and enjoyable. Belfast produces its own range of ales. Depending on their license, most bars stop serving alcohol at either 11PM or 1AM. Some clubs serve until later, and some bars have (illegal) "lock-ins" where the doors are locked at closing time, but people can stay and drink for longer. You usually have to be known by the bar staff to be allowed to remain, however.
A popular dish is the 'fry-up' (also called the Ulster Fry). It consists of eggs, bacon, tomatoes, sausages, potato bread. Some versions include mushrooms, soda bread, ham, and potato bread. Fry-ups are generally prepared like the name says, everything is fried up in a pan. Traditionally lard was used to fry it in, but recently due to health concerns, oils such as canola and olive are used. It is generally referred to by the rest of the public as a 'heart attack on a plate'. Historically, it was popular with the working class.
Also popular are snacks that are often offered with tea and coffee, these range from tray bakes to biscuits and chocolate bars. Many people buy from local producers as well as supermarkets
Giant's Causeway- World Heritage Site and National Nature Reserve. Giants Causeway is a park thats unusual design is caused by volcanic erruptions and formed by lava. It is an interesting site to see but come prepared for a long and intense walk. (Best to wear waterproof clothing and strong sneakers). Giant's Causeway is split up into six sections in walking order : 1. The Camel 2. The Granny 3. The Wishing Chair 4. The Chimney Tops 5. The Giant's Boot and 6. The Organ. All six parts of Giant's Causeway are different in shape and form and truly are a sight to be seen.
Carrick-A-Rede- The name literally means the rock in the road. Carrick-A-Rede is a bridge in between two rocks that is a tourist attraction. There is a small fee to cross the bridge but the sight is amazing. After crossing the bridge, there is beautiful greens and it is a spot for great pictures. This attraction must be done during the day, it closes soon before sun-down.
Ulster American Folk Park- Northern Ireland Visitor Attraction in County Tyrone open air museum explaining story of emigration from Ulster to North America in 18th and 19th centuries. There is an Old World and New World in site. Sites include the Weaver's Cootage, A Blackamith's forge, Crop Fields, log cabins, smoke houses, and herb gardens. Museum restaurant available, open daily for snacks and full meals.
Despite a reputation as unsafe, Northern Ireland has one of the lowest crime rates among industrialized countries. According to statistics from the U.N. International Crime Victimization Survey (ICVS 2004), Northern Ireland has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe (lower than the United States and the rest of the United Kingdom). In fact, the results of the latest ICVS show that Japan is the only industrialized place safer than Northern Ireland. Almost all visitors experience a trouble-free stay.
However, as with most places, avoid being alone at night in urban areas. In addition, avoid wearing clothes that could identify you (correctly or not) as being from one community or the other (for example Celtic or Rangers kits). Do not express a political viewpoint (pro-Nationalist or pro-Unionist) unless you are absolutely sure you are in company that will not become hostile towards you for doing so. Even then, you should be sure that you know what you're talking about! Avoid political gatherings where possible. Many pubs have a largely cultural and political atmosphere (such as on the Falls Road, the mostly Republican main road in West Belfast, and the Newtownards Roads in predominantly Loyalist East Belfast), but expressing an opinion among good company, especially if you share the same view, will usually not lead to any negative consequences.
Northern Ireland tends to shutdown for at least a few days surrounding the 12th July due to the 'Orange' marches. These have been known to get a bit rowdy but have vastly improved in recent years.
If phone from one Northern Ireland phone to another, you do not need to add any area code. If phone from the rest of Ireland, prefix the number with 048. If phoneing from the rest of the UK, add the prefix 028. If phoning from outside of the British Isles, you can contact Northern Ireland by using +44 28. International phone cards are widely available in large towns and cities.
Generally speaking, people from NI are welcoming, friendly and well-humored people, however that does not mean that, on occasion, there are no taboos. It is sometimes apparent in some of the more geographically 'politicised' areas of the Northern Ireland, that an insistence on a politicised conversation, especially concerning religious affiliation, may cause offence. Further on that issue, avoid bringing up issues like the IRA, UVF, UDA, INLA etc. or political parties as it will fare similarly as the above taboo. Other than that, there are no real dangers to causing tension among the Northern Irish people. As with virtually all cultures, don't do anything you wouldn't do at home. Also, Northern Ireland people have a habit of gently refusing gifts or gestures you may offer them, do not be offended, because they really mean that they like the gesture, also you are expected to do the same, so as not to appear slightly greedy, it is a confusing system but is not likely to get you in trouble.
The people in Northern Ireland are generally warm and open - always ready with good conversation. Of course, being such a small, isolated country has also led to a decidedly noticible lack in social diversity.
Gay and lesbian travellers should be aware that Northern Ireland is not the most accepting country when it comes to homosexuality. This is not necessarily due to the people being adverse to it, but rather, the fact that there are virtually no examples of any Gay and Lesbian communities. You may find somewhere to go openly within downtown Belfast, but it is advised that, for the most part, displays of affection should be kept to a minimum. Usually, at worst, all it will come to is a few funny looks and some rude comments.
It is also worth noting that the majority of people you will encounter will be white. It isn't unusual to go a few days without encountering any multi-culturalism, apart from other visitors. Racism is not generally an issue. However, due to the openness and rather frank humour in Northern Ireland, small, sarcastic comments may be made about the issue, in jest, if a local encounters someone outside of his or her own nationality. It is best not to react to this, as it is most likely just a joke, and should be treated as such. Racism is not thought of in the same way as it is in other parts of the world and the most common reaction to this kind of joke will be a joke made about the offender in return. If this kind of exchange makes you uncomfortable for any reason, simply change the subject. Because the issue probably means very little to both parties involved, this shouldn't be too difficult to do. The only time racism truly becomes an issue is when it is aimed at religious affiliation, and even then, this is usually limited to the Catholic versus Protestant debate.
The official currency of Northern Ireland is the pound sterling. Bank of England notes are used but the four Northern Irish banks print their own versions, which tend to be used more often (Bank of Ireland, Northern Bank, Ulster Bank, and First Trust). Contrary to what is widely believed in Northern Ireland, Northern Irish notes are often not accepted in the rest of the UK. For convenience they should be exchanged at banks before departure. (They are legal tender in the rest of the country and can be exchanged at banks / post office. But most shops/clubs/bars will not accept them as they are difficult for the staff to determine if they are legitimate. They are normally accepted in the west of scotland and some big stores)
Northern Ireland does a large amount of trade with the Republic of Ireland (where the euro is used) and therefore many outlets in border areas and urban centres accept Euro. Typically expect to pay around 3 euro for every 2 pounds, and expect your change in sterling.
Virtually all shops and pubs in Derry and Newry will accept Euro as payment. In addition, many major pubs and shopping outlets in Belfast city centre now accept euro. In particular, the pub company Botanic Inns Ltd and the shopping centre Castle Court can be cited as accepting payments for goods in Euro. Many phone kiosks in the North also accept Euro, but by no means all.